When Pat Rowan was in high school, he had nowhere to turn when he became aware that he was a male in a female body. The club for gay students at school did not include transsexuals.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to when I started realizing that something was up with me,” Rowan says. He got comfortable with being transgender, and being a guy, through doing research on the Internet.
Arriving at WPI two years ago, Rowan found a largely inactive group that had been known as gay-straight or gay-lesbian. Now, with Rowan as president, the group has changed its name to The Alliance at WPI and its focus to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and intersex. Straight people are encouraged to get involved as “allies.”
“When you go to college, you’re trying to meet people, you’re trying to fit in,” says Cristina Picozzi, WPI’s assistant director of annual giving and the advisor to The Alliance. “It’s good to know that there is this group.”
Besides being more inclusive, the group plans to educate the community on topics local and national, including gay marriage developments in states and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It hopes to provide support and networking to members, and to partner with other groups on campus in areas like mental health and sexual assault awareness.
While there is no official count on campus, Picozzi estimates that there are hundreds of students, faculty, or staff who are of different sexual orientation and gender identity.
Upcoming events include participating in the Worcester Gay Pride Parade and Festival on Sept. 7, a clothing drive on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, and a film and panel discussion on Nov. 20, National Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Picozzi expects at least 25 people from WPI to march in the parade. She says the clothing drive, with the mantra “Closets are for clothes, not people,” is a symbolic way to break stereotypes and support nonprofits that are sympathetic to the gay-lesbian community. The Nov. 20 film is about a woman who has transitioned from a man meeting her son for the first time. Picozzi said the panel that will discuss the film and field questions will include someone suggested by the campus counseling center, religious leaders, and a transsexual participant.
While there is no official count on campus, Picozzi estimates that there are hundreds of students, faculty, or staff who are of different sexual orientation and gender identity. The 2011 graduate of Utica College has found WPI to be an inclusive and welcoming community, but sees room for improvement.
“There still are stereotypes,” she says. “I think outsiders still stereotype these students, and I think they [students] stereotype themselves.”
The school plans to train some staff members in Safe Zone Training, enabling them to help students who come for help with coming out issues.
Rowan, a junior, has had just one unkind encounter on campus, though he overheard “transphobic” comments in the dorm freshman year. He came out at the end of that year, and has been presenting as a man since.
“It’s a nice, accepting campus,” says Rowan, a double major in interactive media and game development and professional writing who plans to work as a game artist and writer.
He hopes to undergo breast surgery in the winter, and faces more surgery and hormone therapy, probably after college.
Living in the wrong body has been a wrenching, years-long struggle for Rowan.
“I did not have a real support system growing up, which led to some very dark nights when I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did,” he wrote in an email subsequent to the interview for this story.
“I am very aware of things in my childhood and college life that I’m missing out on from being in the wrong body, such as Boy Scouts or fraternity life,” he wrote. “I will never be able to go through my younger years as a male, which makes me feel as though I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences I would have otherwise had.”
Rowan told his parents he was transgender just a week after a sister informed them that she was gay.
“Then I come along and say, ‘Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m a guy,’ and that didn’t go so well,” he sayd, “but they’re slowly improving.”
His parents still call him Patricia and refer to him as her. “They’re my parents. I don’t expect that to change very rapidly.”
On campus, Rowan found acceptance came much more quickly. And as president of The Alliance, he plans to work to ensure that continues to be the case – for him and the community he represents.
For further information, visit the Facebook page of The Alliance at Worcester Polytechnic Institute or email email@example.com.
— Dave Greenslit